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1.1 The Self: An Existential Approach.

Existentialism is more of a philosophical style than a philosophy in and of itself. Thus, existentialists have specific mental patterns that correspond to their existential qualities. As a result, they reject the idea that reality can be neatly wrapped in concept or presented as an interconnected system.

“An inquisitive mode of thought that seeks to master the world in relation to man’s life in it.”1 Among existentialist intellectuals, Jean Paul Sartre, Soren Kierkegaard, and Martin Heidegger left indelible imprints. Their primary philosophical style is based on man rather than nature.

A philosophy of the subject as opposed to the object in general. The existentialists’ agenda is set in motion by William Barrett’s description of existentialism:

A philosophy that faces the human problem in its entirety.

wholeness, to inquire as to what the fundamental human conditions are

what they are and how man might create his own

Meaning can be extracted from these events.2

As a result of the aforementioned, an existential approach to self is not difficult to define.

Rene Descartes (1596-1650), the founder of modern philosophy was the first to make a dialectical change in the history of thinking, ripping off philosophy from the chains of scholastic ‘theocentricism’ to the modern ‘anthropocentricism’.

He sets out in his famous cogito to establish the “I” as the reference point of existence. As a result, the “I” becomes the beginning and finish “terminus a quo and terminus ad quem” of his ontological status quo. The ‘I’ becomes the subject of thought.

However, John Macmurray made a noteworthy attempt to move the straight points of philosophy from the “abstract thinking subject to more concrete base, in the total, multi-dimensional human experience of involving in a world of affairs.”3

Toeing the same line of argument, the existentialists owe their thought in agreement with John Macmurray’s notion of the self as a ‘actor’ as against the traditional understanding of self as the ‘subject’.

According to him, “the ‘I’ act (the self as agent) replaces the ‘I’ think (the self as subject) as the place where existential philosophy finds its beginning.”4

According to him, thinking is an abstraction from the whole of self as agent. After providing a skeletal picture of the overall notion of the existential self as owed to Macmurray by existentialism, it is highly crucial at this point to X-ray what three front-liners existentialists have as their views on self.

In order to emphasise the intrinsic essence of the existential self, Soren Kierkegaard made an allusion to the concept of the ‘anonymous mob’. According to him, “being in a crowd unmakes one’s nature as an individual self by diluting self.”5

He goes on to say:Crowd is an untruth in and of itself since it renders the individual entirely impenitent and irresponsible, or at the very least undermines his sense of duty, vision, and responsibility by reducing it to a fraction.6

From a different perspective, Martin Heidegger boldly turned nineteenth-century continental philosophy away from traditional concerns about theories and towards the concern of the thinking individual (self). He goes out to discover the true nature of himself as an existing creature.

Fascinated by the being question (Zeins frage), he want to investigate the underlying ontology – the phenomenological investigation of the ‘Dasein’.

“Dasein has a pre-ontological understanding of his own being because being reveals itself gratuitously to him,” he says in his core work of de-structuring the essential components of the Dasein.7

The existential approach to self in Heidegger’s stream of thinking is not difficult to expose, suggesting as it may be, by making serious inquiry into the meaning of existence through reasonable and fundamental questions.

Jean Paul Sartre confronts the subject of self as the only unique Consciousness without discarding his phenomenological foundation. He claims that

The manner in which Consciousnesses exist

is to be aware of itself and to be aware of

His consciousness is correct, as is its law of existence.


He also thinks that Consciousness is fully absolute insofar as it is conscious of itself. Being and Nothingness, Sartre’s acclaimed work, proposes an existential definition of self “as the unique individual that is essentially free even though in chains, is a master of his own fate.”9

As a result, he projects the self in accordance with Cartesian thought analysis, as an individual human being seeking apodictic certainty as a referential point of departure.

In Sartrian philosophy, the genuine message of self may not be correctly transmitted until there is a cause to “make a veritable insight into the ontological and epistemological variations, wherein the Cartesian cogito becomes essentially manifested.”10

Without his famous remark “No one speaks from nowhere,” Hans Gadamer would have been lost in the annals of intellectual history; consequently, to speak involves speaking from a specific point of view.

Given this, the subject of self in Sartrian philosophy may not be thoroughly discussed without a reference to his phenomenological background.

1.2 Existentialism:A Phenomenological Background.

In philosophy, the term “phenomenology” has a lengthy history. Immanuel Kant used it occasionally to refer to the study of occurrences or appearances rather than things in and of themselves.

Hegel used the term in his phenomenology of mind to describe the manifestations of the phases of the mind, from perception through forms of awareness to the greatest intellectual spiritual activity. Husserl’s Introduction to Pure Phenomenology was sandwiched between,

concerns about reality and prefers to devise methods

for a thorough and comprehensive overview of several types in

Their true essences.11

A brief intellectual tour through the existentialist milieu reveals that it was Edmund Husserl (1859-1938) who initiated the intellectual relay race in German phenomenology. He is enthralled by the Cartesian cogito and intends to establish the self as the existing actor from a phenomenological foundation.

His unmistakable effect on his predecessors, intellectuals such as Martin Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, and Jean Paul Sartre, propelled the phenomenological relay race forward. Because existentialism owes its definitive origin to phenomenology, most existentialists are phenomenologists.

While this is not always the case, there is an obvious reality of a tight relationship that has arisen between the two forms of thought. “Phenomenology appears to offer existentialism the kind of methodology required to pursue investigations into human existence,”

the fact is evident.12

Fascinated by Cartesian methodic doubt, Husserl radicalised its premises with some success. Transcendental awareness could no longer be defined as a thinking matter, a’res cogitans,’ but as an action matter. He emphasises in his argument that if consciousness only exists as consciousness of something, Husserl’s interpretation of the methodic doubt suggests that the ‘physical ‘I’ would perish along the way,

“because the ‘I’ presents the character of an object.”13

Phenomenology was created by existentialists for their own purposes. The point of departure between Husserl and existential phenomenologists is not difficult to identify.

The former emphasises essence and treats phenomenology as an apodictic science, whereas the later emphasises existence. Sartre’s argument that ‘existence before essence’ exemplifies the existentialists’ devotion to life. They challenged Kantian dualism in this sense, which assumed some hidden ‘noumena’ of which the ‘phenomena’ is only the manifestation.

Maurice Blondel (1861-1949) argues in his work ‘L’Action’ that “the starting point of philosophy should be sought not in abstract ‘I’ think but in concrete ‘I’ act.”14

To support this claim, existentialists emphasise activity, because only through action does existence achieve accuracy and fullness, according to them. Nothing worthy of the label action will exist when thought, passion, and inward decision are lacking.

Despite the importance existentialists place on action, it does not appear that they are pragmatists. A suitable juxtaposition of the former’s and latter’s differences and similarities takes us to the next sub-heading. Without a doubt, pragmatists and existentialists lay a higher emphasis on man as a deciding agent.

However, while the former sees man as a functional being, the latter approaches him from the perspective of “Homo Viator.” The former emphasises optimism from a utilitarian stance to a larger extent.

They are preoccupied with questions of success in all endeavours, paying little or no regard to the tragic and frustrating aspects of life as described in most existentialist texts.

Berdyaev’s words clearly distinguish the two, notwithstanding how similar the latter may be in certain ways to the former:

They differ from them in that they are more interested in

lies in the ferocity of life, in its tragic ferocity, rather than its

“Outward growth and success.”15

Existentialists accept the obvious circumstances of man’s existence as a fact of life. This is what I intend to reveal in the preceding subheading.

1.3 Facticity Of Existence

A simple examination of this statement reveals two opposing concepts: fact and existence. The ultimate tribunal in philosophy of science is supposed to be facts. As a result, there would be no result if there were no facts. The situation is similar in the fields of law and other subjects.

‘To exist’ from its Latin roots ‘ex-sistere’ means, ‘to stand out’, ‘to emerge’. To ‘lay around’ appears to underline a more modern notion of existence- ontological placement. To exist in this context means to be positioned somewhere in the world, to have a place in the real world.

Martin Heidegger alluded to the concept of ‘Dasein’ while conveying the message of what it means to exist. Jean Paul Sartre investigates the ‘Pour-soi’ for-itself. Above all, what are the facts of existence in the existential mind? Existentialists define ‘Facticity’ as the limiting aspect in existence.

The term was coined to translate the German ‘Faktizitat’ and the French ‘Facticite’. It contrasts with the background of the word factuality, which has to do with the objective state of affairs observed in the world. It is an interior existential consciousness of oneself.

Nobody has made the decision to be. “The loneliness of personality in the universe weighs heavily upon us,” Augustine Farrer says, “it seems terribly improbable that we should exist.”16

Man has had some views or even revelations about his origin and destiny since the beginning of time.

It is not clear whether such assumptions are true or valid. The only certainty we have is that ‘we are’. Where we came from and where we’re headed are both shrouded in mystery.

The conflict between potential and facticity is always present in existence. The radical finitude of human existence is revealed to us via facticity.

Robert Cumming provided a greater understanding of facticity as depicted in Sartre’s philosophy. The “for-itself” is, insofar as it arises in a circumstance that it did not choose, flung into the world and abandoned in a situation.”17

According to Heidegger, facticity means that man finds himself in an unavoidable circumstance. ‘Throwness,’ ‘Geworfenheit’ in Heideggerian thought emphasises the intrinsic significance of facticity to a greater extent. “Being thrown into existence without his prior knowledge, the ‘Dasein’ finds himself in a situation that he did not create.”18

Facticity is a direct reveal of the ‘Dasein’s’ limitations. In one example, the ‘Dasein’ realises that some things are beyond his control, something he cannot change even if he wanted to.

Certain variables project unavoidable existential crises. Death, Temporality, Guilt, and Alienation tend to summarise life’s unavoidable aspects. Death, as Heidegger correctly states, is the possibility of the impossibility of existence.

Heidegger is one of the existentialists who never avoided the subject of death. Only upon death could the ‘Dasein’ be properly defined. He regards death as the final possibility, the impossibility of any further potential. Man’s nature as a time-bound being is redefined in temporality. Man, as a temporal being, must pass away.

One of the most devastating features of finitude is the transience of human life. Whatever the circumstance may be, man must be a client of the tribunal of birth and death.

Existentialists, as opposed to pragmatists, may appear pessimistic, yet they have never failed to recognise the evident fact of disorder in human existence. As a result, man feels guilty and often estranged from the world around him.

Karl Marx identified alienation as a feature of revolutionary changes in man’s material position. From an existential standpoint, alienation suggests that one is trapped in an unauthentic existence.

Without facticity, Robert Cumming asserts that “consciousness would choose its attachment to the world in the same way that souls in Plato’s republic choose their condition.”19

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